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Boston Globe Questions Coakley's Treatment of Rape, Molestation Cases

10:01 AM, Jan 6, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Two weeks before the special election to replace Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Boston Globe brings attention to criticism Democratic candidate Martha Coakley got in 2005 for seeming lax in the treatment of a rape suspect. Coakley's camp cannot be happy with the recounting of this story in the local paper:

In October 2005, a Somerville police officer living in Melrose raped his 23-month-old niece with a hot object, most likely a curling iron.

Keith Winfield, then 31, told police he was alone with the toddler that day and made additional statements that would ultimately be used to convict him.

But in the aftermath of the crime, a Middlesex County grand jury overseen by Martha Coakley, then the district attorney, investigated without taking action.

It was only after the toddler’s mother filed applications for criminal complaints that Coakley won grand jury indictments charging rape and assault and battery.

Even then, nearly 10 months after the crime, Coakley’s office recommended that Winfield be released on personal recognizance, with no cash bail. He remained free until December 2007, when Coakley’s successor as district attorney won a conviction and two life terms.

Coakley argues that she followed all appropriate procedures, that the suspect had deep roots in the community and no criminal record, giving her little reason to ask for cash bail.

Still the Globe's description of the crime is pretty devastating, as are the quotes from the victim's family and the fact that the victim spent a month in the hospital recovering from burns.

There's also a timely, local angle that will give this story an even more visceral quality for voters:

Recently, the question of bail in child rape cases made local headlines when a Kingston man was accused of raping a 3-year-old girl while free on $10,000 cash bail, which was imposed after an earlier charge of breaking and entering and raping a 5-year-old girl. Prosecutors had recommended $200,000 cash bail after the first alleged rape, but a judge would not agree to it.

Jules Crittenden, on Coakley's justifications:

Well, be that as it may, there are always good reasons to do nothing. The annals of Massachusetts justice are full of them. The morgues of Massachusetts newspapers are full of stories about the further rapes and murders that followed.

Back to Coakley’s run, this is just the latest friendly fire. Earlier the Globe wacked her for a go-lightly deal that left the late infamous diddler priest, John Geoghan, free to diddle.

Indeed, in November the Globe hit on this issue:

When Martha Coakley was the Middlesex district attorney, her office prosecuted the Rev. John J. Geoghan based on an allegation that he squeezed the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy a single time at a public swimming pool. The highly publicized 2002 conviction won Coakley widespread praise for bringing the first successful criminal case against the widely accused pedophile, a priest many had called “Father Jack.’’

But seven years earlier, Coakley, then the head of the Middlesex child abuse unit, had Geoghan in her sights and took a dramatically different approach. Back then, three grade-school brothers told investigators that Geoghan had inappropriately touched them during numerous visits to their Waltham home, and had made lewd telephone calls to them. Rather than prosecute, Coakley agreed to grant Geoghan a year of probation in a closed-door proceeding that received no media attention at all.

Because of the deal, Geoghan faced no formal charges and no criminal record.

Once again, Coakley says she acted appropriately, that she could not have gotten a conviction, and used what she had to leverage for probation requirements. But the paper's quotes from parents and victim activists make for uncomfortable reading, as do the details of the case.

Crittenden tries to figure out why the Globe is being so diligent about Coakley's past: